August 15: “For My Grandmother’s Perfume, Norell”

Because your generation didn’t wear perfume
but chose a scent—a signature—every day
you spritzed a powerhouse floral with top
notes of lavender and mandarin, a loud
smell one part Doris Day, that girl-next-door
who used Technicolor to find a way to laugh about
husbands screwing their secretaries over lunch,
the rest all Faye Dunaway, all high drama
extensions of nails and lashes, your hair a
a breezy fall of bangs, a stiletto entrance
that knew to walk sideways, hip first:
now watch a real lady descend the stairs.

Launched in 1968, Norell
was the 1950s tingling with the beginning
of Disco; Norell was a housewife tired of gospel,
mopping her house to Stevie Wonder instead.

You wore so much of it, tiny pockets
of your ghost lingered hours after you
were gone, and last month, I stalked
a woman wearing your scent through
the grocery so long I abandoned
my cart and went home. Fanny, tell me:
How can manufactured particles carry you
through the air? I always express what I see,
but it was no photo that
stopped and queased me to my knees.

After all these years, you were an invisible
trace, and in front of a tower of soup cans
I was a simple animal craving the deep memory
worn by a stranger oblivious of me. If I had courage,
the kind of fool I’d like to be,
I would have pressed my face to her small
shoulder, and with the sheer work of
two pink lungs, I would have breathed
enough to
conjure
you back
to me.

— Nickole Brown

August 6: “Route 684, Southbound Rest Stop”

So you see why it could not have been a more humble moment.
If there was any outward sign of regalia
It might have been the twilight crowning of the day, just then,
A perfect moment of dusk, but changing, as a wave does
Even as you admire it. Because the southbound stop
Mirrors the one northbound where we so often find ourselves
At the beginning, southbound’s return holds the memory
Of northbound’s setting-out, and the grassy median between
With its undisturbed trees defines an elusive strip of the present
Where no one lives. After twenty-eight years of the trip,
It’s like two beakers of colored water — one green, one blue —
Have poured themselves back and forth, because
On one side we are tinted by remembering the other.
But this aspect of the journey, at least, we know we will repeat.
As dusk cohered that moment — aquas, pinks, violets —
Just at that moment as I was returning to the car
A woman came the other way, her two young daughters
Holding her hands, and the gloaming sparkled around them
So that I froze, as they were backlit, starry,
They were the southbound reminder of who I had been beginning
The trip. She didn’t look like me, but what I did recognize
Was her clarity of purpose, in what Sharon Olds called
the days of great usefulness, making life as nice
As she could for them, always writing the best story,
And also, beneath her skin, living with delight as quiet
As the shoots anchoring grass beneath the earth.
I walked back to my car. My husband sat in the driver’s seat,
Our weekend’s luggage thrown in back.
Tell me we really had those girls, I said,
and that they held my hands like that. When I got home
I pictured her helping them each into bed — I knew it was
Later than she had hoped — then reading
Each section of the paper’s terrible news, finally alone.
— Jessica Greenbaum

August 5: “Let’s Put it To Music”

How do you feel about me
Now that you’ve learned to know me?
Why don’t we both admit
That something is happening.
And we would feel better if
We’d just tell each other
No need to keep it to ourselves.
Let’s put it to music
Let’s put it to music
Let’s sing about it
Laugh about it
Clap our hands
And shout about it
Let the whole world hear it
In a sweet, sweet melody
Let’s put it to music, you and me.

— Johnny Cash

July 28: “Let America be America Again”

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home–
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay–
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose–
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain–
All, all the stretch of these great green states–
And make America again!

— Langston Hughes

July 27: “After Before and After”

I’ve been freed from
inside the Fall of Rome,
my contract disrupted.
Civilization will
not descend without
my bet against it rising,
a weather balloon
that hangs against a vast
usurped sky. A carrier
pigeon, to be,
carries me. And from here
I can find the edge
of the cunning, supposedly
clear window that
divides us from the world
of Michael Kors, that
divides a kiss from
its aftertaste.
A coda is a beginning.
After before and
after, humane enclosures
air whips through
with a taste for blood
oranges and secret
unpoliced
temporal lace
have been spread out
imagining possible
goddesses in
bed. What’s free
about a woman’s stubble,
what’s enhanced
delivering an urgent note
across a field of blue.

— Trace Peterson